Migraineur’s Guide to CAM: State-regulated practices
The following methods of CAM are licensed, certified, or otherwise regulated by most states unless otherwise specified. If you are concerned about the quality of care, starting with treatment options that have regulatory oversight can bring a sense of safety to the process. Additionally, each of these treatment modalities can slowly introduce you to other options, like the ones to be addressed in the coming weeks.
In many states, Naturopaths are licensed health care providers who provide primary health care services much like a medical doctor or osteopath. They attend accredited medical schools and receive the same quality training as physicians, including prescribing medication and performing minor surgery. However, their focus is different. Instead of using medications, vaccinations, and surgery to treat disease, they use holistic methods with an emphasis on doing no harm to the patient. A naturopath is like the primary care physician of CAM. They treat the same types of conditions as your family doctor. Some even go on to obtain specialized training to treat more serious conditions, like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc.
Naturopaths are unique in that they take a lot of time with their patients. The first appointment may last 2 hours or more with follow-up appointments of 30 – 60 minutes depending on your concerns. This kind of doctor takes the time necessary to get to know you and your health problems. A first appointment can cost $150 or more with follow-ups ranging from $75 to $100 depending on required testing. If you compare this with the full price of a visit to your family doctor, you will find that the rates are very reasonable. Check with your insurance because many are starting to pay for these services.
My family has both a primary care physician (O.D.) and a naturopath. They work together to keep our family healthy. And yes, I do see my naturopath for migraine treatment in addition to a headache specialist. I can get acupuncture treatments in his office, as well as consultation on nutritional supplements and testing for nutritional deficiencies.
Homeopathic doctors use only homeopathic medicines. These medicines are regulated by the FDA as prescription and OTC drugs. Their quality and manufacturing practices are governed by the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States (HPUS). Look for these initials when purchasing homeopathic remedies over the counter.
These remedies are prepared with a process called potentiation. The substance is diluted in a solution of distilled water, shaken, diluted again, then shaken again, over and over. Homeopathic remedies are so diluted that the chemical makeup of the original substance is no longer detectible. The more diluted the remedy, the stronger the therapeutic action. While many often claim that any therapeutic benefit is the result of placebo effect, over 200 years of practical experience and rigorous clinical study has show this to be incorrect.
Although some homeopathic substances are toxic in their original form, they present no threat in homeopathic form For example, Rhus tox won’t give you a poison ivy rash; Arsenicum album has no traces of arsenic; and Belladonna won’t kill you by cardiac arrest in their homeopathic form.
Homeopathic medicine is a distinct discipline which adheres to 3 core philosophies:
The Law of Similars
In other words, “like cures like.” Another way to explain this concept is that a healthy person’s exposure to a substance may cause a specific symptom (itching). That same substance can eliminate the symptom in an affected patient when given at the appropriate dose. Here’s an example: The homeopathic remedy, Rhus tox is derived from the poison ivy plant. It is indicated for rash, hives, or other form of contact dermatitis. It is also sometimes used for the chicken pox rash.
Practitioners are taught to use the minimum dose necessary to affect healing results on the body. While taking more than is necessary will not harm a patient, it can produce a strong die-off effect known as a “healing crisis” that triggers unexpected symptoms. These symptoms are usually a sign that healing is taking place at a faster pace than is expected. Using the minimum dose, homeopaths can help patients avoid this uncomfortable transition.
True homeopathic medicine utilizes only one remedy at a time. The remedy selected depends as much on the patient’s personality as on their symptoms. There are homeopathic formulas available over-the-counter that contain multiple ingredients, however, these are not in keeping with the pure practice of homeopathic medicine.
Homeopathic doctors are licensed to practice medicine in Arizona and California. In all other states, the use of prescription homeopathic medicines is limited to licensed health care professionals such as doctors, osteopaths, nurse practitioners, and naturopaths.
We have used Rhus tox successfully to treat allergic reactions to medication, poison ivy, chicken pox, and eczema. My family has used homeopathic teething tablets and other remedies for common childhood ailments for 4 generations because of their safety and gentle action.
Many Naturopaths are qualified to perform acupuncture, while some providers are licensed only for acupuncture. It is one aspect of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The Chinese believe that “chi” or “qi”, an energy “life force,” flows through the body along channels called meridians. By inserting the tip of very thin needles at strategic points along these meridians, the flow of chi is improved, relieving pain by stimulating the body’s natural pain killers and improving blood flow to support healing. Some practitioners use heat lamps and TENS units to enhance the healing process.
I have used acupuncture in lieu of an ER visit or prednisone to break a bad cycle of migraine attacks. It has been equally effective every time. I have also used acupuncture for orthopedic injuries with similar success. It’s not a cure, but it has helped.
Chiropractic care focuses on manipulation of the musculoskeletal system. Chiropractors use mild force or a device called an activator to adjust joints that have reduced mobility. There is some evidence that chiropractic adjustments are effective at relieving back pain. Most chiropractors also claim their adjustments can help ease the symptoms of migraine, arthritis, and other painful conditions.
Chiropractic care was my first introduction to CAM. My new husband was so concerned at the quantity of medicine I was taking he encouraged me to see a chiropractor. Despite their promises to rid me of all headaches, each one eventually gave up on that idea. However, I have been greatly helped by their treatments. Adjustments have had the same effect as an acupuncture treatment. They can break a bad cycle and ease my discomfort.
Massage therapy is the practice of manipulating soft tissue to aid in relaxation and pain relief. It can also improve mobility and circulation. Various forms of massage have been practiced in all cultures for thousands of years. Most modern-day massage therapists are trained in multiple techniques. The practice of massage therapy is regulated by most state boards of healing arts through licensure or certification. Although massage has its origins in traditional healing practices, its benefits have been demonstrated sufficiently that in some cases treatments are covered by health insurance plans.
I started getting massage therapy shortly after the birth of my second child. With all the challenges of being a new mommy, regular massages helped me manage the stress. I have found it to be a great way to relieve muscle tension caused by stress and poor body mechanics.
Myofascial Release therapy
MRT is a type of massage that focuses on breaking up adhesions of the fascia and trigger points in order to improve muscle function and mobility, as well as reduce pain caused by these problems. It is usually performed by physical therapists with advanced training and certification in MRT. Unlike traditional massage therapy (which works on muscles) MRT focuses on restoring the fascia to its healthy, flexible state. Fascia is connective tissue that surrounds every structure in the body. It is normally relaxed and pliable. Injuries, medical procedures, and inflammation can damage the fascia and cause it to stiffen. This damage causes pain and restricted movement. MRT corrects this damage by applying gentle pressure and stretching to the affected areas, resulting in less pain and improved flexibility.
I was introduced to MRT at a headache clinic after a routine EMG and MRI revealed a bulging disc and several degenerative discs in my cervical vertebrae. These problems contributed to shoulder impingement, triggering Cervicogenic Headaches. MRT corrected the muscle dysfunction, relieving 80% of my neck and shoulder pain.